There is an unwritten rule in sports. When you’re confidence is at it’s lowest point, you find yourself at the mercy of the worst conditions you could possibly ask for. Robbie Ginepri had lost in the first round of three of the four tournaments he entered this year and here he was in the first round of the Tennis Channel Open, in the middle of a desert, and it was bloody freezing cold. The wind was carrying his shots long and his opponent, Paul Goldstein, had recently set the record for the most number of tournament wins. On the challenger circuit. After eight years in the minor leagues, Goldstein has been moving up lately but Ginepri, at number 19, still did not want to lose to the 65th ranked player on the tour.

Lack of confidence is like an autoimmune disease, you start to feed on yourself then the damage spreads.

Lack of confidence is like an autoimmune disease, you start to feed on yourself then the damage spreads. You go into a match thinking, “I wonder what new thing will happen today to make things worse than they already are.” At the start of the match, Ginepri looked like he was feigning indifference so that it wouldn’t hurt too much when things did fall apart, but he was able to gather himself and rise to the occasion. Goldstein had him down 3-0 with two breaks but Ginepri pulled the set out in a tiebreaker.

Confidence doesn’t come back all in one blow, it usually returns in fits and starts. In the second set, Ginepri had Goldstein down 2-0 and had three break points on him but started spraying balls long and managed to lose the set 6-3. Now he was mad. At one point he turned his back to the court and yelled a very loud obscenity. No doubt he got a fine to add to his troubles.

Whenever rain starts coming down, the player with momentum ignores it completely hoping that it’ll go away and the player who is down in momentum starts dragging his feet and asking the umpire if the conditions really are conducive to playing tennis. One could slip and hurt them selves after all. Luckily for Ginepri, the rain kept coming and the match was suspended shortly after Goldstein won the second set.

But when your confidence is not working, it’s not working. The match started up again the next day and Ginepri was still spraying balls long. Goldstein got up 4-0 rather quickly and won the third set and the match, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-1.

I doubt that Andy Murray’s confidence is low. He got to the quarterfinals last week in Memphis and won the week before at San Jose. Unfortunately he had the bad luck to run into Tommy Robredo who played very well in their first round match to beat Murray rather easily, 6-2, 6-2.

Gael Monfils came here with two consecutive first round losses but that was preceded by losing to Roger Federer in the final at Doha. Nothing to be ashamed about. Both Murray and Monfils have one tournament win apiece and they’re likely to experience the roller coaster ride of first round losses followed by final appearances for at least a little while longer. Monfils went down to Jonas Bjorkman, 7-6(8), 6-3.

One player was very happy just to get to the first round. Prakash Amritraj won three qualifier matches to get into the main draw. The last time we saw him I was sitting in the sixth row of the SDAT Tennis Stadium in Chennai, India, watching Amritraj lose in the doubles final with his partner Rohan Bopanna. His father, former ATP player and all round nice guy Vijay Amritraj, bundled himself up and sat in the stands.

When I saw Amritraj play in Chennai, I wondered if he was fast enough for the tour because he had trouble getting to the other side of the court when serving in the I formation. It turns out that he is that rare bird, the serve and volley player. Clearly he has some speed if he chooses that style of play but whether it’s enough to become a regular member of the main tour is not clear.

After Goldstein’s victory, he talked about the ups and downs of a career that saw early success followed by many years on the challenger circuit followed by regular appearances on the main tour. “Tennis is a funny game, ” he said by way of explanation.

As for Ginepri, Murray and Monfils, I’m sure not one of them found it the least bit funny.

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